They Did Win, Didn’t They?


With Scottish sub-samples in the twelve Populus polls conducted since the referendum finding the following support (combined sample size 1,532, fieldwork conducted 19/9-26/10): SNP – 37% (+17%) Lab – 28% (-14%), that’s some rout. John S Warren investigates.

Who lost the referendum? It is becoming hard to tell. John McTernan wrote in the ‘Scotsman’ (23rd October) that following the referendum Alex Salmond was “so beleaguered he has had to resign”. Johann Lamont (FM Questions, 25th September) said that when Salmond was “long gone I will still be doing my job on behalf of the people of Scotland”. Then she was gone.

She did not wait to celebrate McTernan’s rather tardy post-victory rallying call to Labour’s troops: “Triumphalism is not merely required, it is also energising”. Ah, we remember that injunction: Rejoice! Clearly Johann Lamont was not energised. She did not leave, ‘rejoicing’ (or worse, perhaps she did). Perhaps she knew better than McTernan the real state of Labour’s foot-soldiers. McTernan appeals loftily to the Labour troops in Scotland from somewhere near Chateau Westminster, far from the frontline; “I get it. After an exhausting, lengthy campaign you are knackered: all you want to do is sleep. But victory is victory, a win is a win”. Or maybe it isn’t, or doesn’t seem like one to the activists. Does McTernan really “get it”?

Triumphalism has become unfashionable, at least since the Roman Empire, or was it Margaret Thatcher? Victory is now more typically expected to be graced by magnanimity in civilised societies; a hand extended to the defeated, especially when they are 45% of the electorate; the elephant in the room. This is smart politics, but not for McTernan who is clear about the matter: “you only make your opponent pay the price by sticking a defeat on them”. It is less clear what this vernacular actually means, but it is no doubt consonant with McTernan’s enjoyment of violent metaphors – thrashings, routings, stickings. According to Labour, who have claimed victory loudest, that is how winners acquire their right to a ‘triumph’, and the power to set the tone for all our political futures. We may well ask how this is going to heal wounds, soothe divisions and bring harmony; a common purpose to Scottish politics after a long, tense, close political campaign? We may well ask in vain, for McTernan no doubt represents what passes for the highest wisdom in Labour politics.

Magnanimity is smart politics, however only if you are aware (or care) why your troops are knackered. It appears nobody has dared tell McTernan that behind the appearance of being the people’s party, there are almost no troops left in Labour’s army (no wonder they don’t tell him – they might by routed); but no doubt it is a long time since McTernan climbed a stairheid, rang a doorbell, faced a Labour voter, or worked in the grassroots: meanwhile the imagined serried ranks of committed Labour activists on which he deigns to rely for results, are long gone; they may still fill the pages of ancient, dusty membership books, but in reality most are now probably either dead, too old, gone away, given up, deserted or in despair.

There was surely nothing uplifting for a Labour activist faced with having to support Labour’s record in government over the long, dreich, compromised campaigns from Iraq to the Credit Crunch; or defensible for those asked to campaign face-to-face with constituents in a referendum that offered them nothing more than a relentless message of cold fear, delivered by a Better Together political-party cartel, which Labour chose to join in close partnership with their new best colleagues: the “Tories”. Many Labour supporters probably thought Labour would better represent their interests if it was “sticking it” to the Conservative-LibDem Government, than serving it; but they are not sophisticated enough to merit McTernan’s attention, and their opinions are simply discounted. The problem is that perhaps for the first time ever, since the referendum experience Labour voters have realised that their votes are only ever going to be taken for granted, their voices ignored, their importance discounted by Labour in Westminster; for other interests, other politics. It was Westminster Labour’s brashly assumed entitlement that voters in Scotland would be there for Labour, no-matter-what the party policy entailed or what it offered supporters, because the Scottish Labour voter had nowhere else to go: only to discover that the referendum process has empowered them, or in McTernan’s chosen word, ‘energised’ them; but the price of energy is that they can no longer be taken for granted, and are considerably less rather than more likely to vote Labour in 2015.

Meanwhile McTernan believes that the SNP has already been “routed”, “soundly thrashed”; or are “in danger of irrelevance in Scotland at the next General Election”. He ignores the non-SNP voters (including Labour voters), a common Labour blind-spot; he has not absorbed the 97% that registered to vote in the referendum; the turnout over 80%. Inconveniently, the ‘routed’ have since joined the Greens, transforming the scale of the party almost overnight; they have raised the membership of the SNP to circa 82,000; some rout. Let us compare these resources with Labour. This is not easy because Labour seems reluctant to reveal their precise membership figures. Is it the often repeated 20,000? Or setting interpretative ambiguities aside (this is Labour after all, there are bound to be impenetrable problems of interpretation), a more robust 13,000? Less? Much less? Who knows.

So let us ask an easier question that does not require Labour to rake through ancient records, and perhaps embarrass themselves. Let us rather ask a much easier question; the question that allows Labour to celebrate McTernan’s triumph loudest. What increases in membership have accrued to Labour since the referendum “triumph”? Surely it is in Labour’s interest to “celebrate loud and long”, in McTernan’s well-chosen words; and what is louder or longer than telling the world about the thousands flocking to the cause. When are we going to hear about the increase of 50,000 new Labour Party members after this referendum ‘rout’? Surely 40,000 additional troops after “thrashing” their opponents? 20,000 after “humiliating” the SNP? There have to be at least 10,000 shiny new membership cards, after all “a win is a win?

They did win, didn’t they?

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  1. Excellent piece,well I enjoyed it very much.

  2. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

    The fact is substantial constitutional change in Scotland has been promoted by the SNP and that appears to be accepted (deceptively) by the unionist parties in Scotland. This will be the unionists downfall.

    Whatever The Smith Commission proposes, meaningful change will not happen whilst Scotland remains part of the UK. That much we know. Hence why there is a real spat in Labour. Their Scottish branch members realise that they actually lost the referendum. They now realise (after burying their heads in the sand) the price of fronting the tory funded campaign.

    The question is, what will they do about it? My feeling is practically nothing. They haven’t got a backbone between them. The only dissenting voices I have heard are from ex-MSP’s. The only exception being Malcolm Chisholm, whom I understand is retiring in a couple of years time.

    They will let Jim Murphy in. A man whose only brief will be to attempt to secure a maximum return of Labour Mp’s to Westminster and practice total obedience to London. After that he will disappear again to Westminster hopeful of a position fitting of his massive ego-after Miliband (who sidelined him) resigns after the GE.

    They should of course declare UDI from their London masters are promote Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland. However, there’s more chance of Hibs winning The Champion League. (I say that as a Hibee).

  3. At the risk of being thought pedantic, the Yes vote WAS NOT 45% “of the electorate”; it was 45% of those who voted, a numerical fact too many YESers appear reluctant to accept. Roughly 15%—around one in seven—of those eligible to vote didn’t (for whatever reason); a remarkably small proportion compared with recent parliamentary elections, but it still means that barely 38% of the total electorate put their cross against Yes. Mind you, less than half voted “No”, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of the British State either!

    1. muttley79 says:

      It really is a moot point though. 45 per cent out of a turnout of around 85 per cent of the electorate voted Yes. So around 12 per cent of the electorate failed to vote in the most important vote in hundreds of years in Scotland.

    2. MBC says:

      By the same token less than 55% of the entire electorate voted No. 2 million out of 4.3 million. By my reckoning that’s 46% who voted No.

      1. Michael McCourt says:


  4. John Page says:

    Great writing!
    Fortunately hadn’t been much aware of McTernan until recently………I do hope SLAB keep following his advice. So looking forward to the 2015 GE campaign to work for the complete demise of this self serving clique

  5. Point taken, but I suggest this changes little of substance: as you say the result is “hardly a ringing endorsement of the British State”. For fellow anoraks and pedants everywhere the basic facts are these: the turnout was 84.5%. The total electorate was 4.28m: total votes cast 3.62m. This was split 1.62m for Yes; 2.00m for No. This means that 37.8% of the total electorate voted ‘Yes’; 46.7% voted ‘No’ (less than half the electorate).

    1. Grace Ferguson says:

      I think you will find that the votes cast were a lot more than that It’s just we don’t know where the votes went to? Given that there are so many figures floating around, I think that an independent enquiry into the referendum would put everything in proper perspective but the government seem unwilling to initiate this. It would put an end to the speculation that the government couldn’t possibly leave to chance the risk of losing all that oil. Also given the fact that there are police investigations on going into the process and legality of the actions of Ruth Davidson MP, surely this would be the solution

  6. “There was surely nothing uplifting for a Labour activist faced with having to support Labour’s record in government over the long, dreich, compromised campaigns from Iraq to the Credit Crunch”

    Did Labour cause the Credit Crunch?

  7. I gave up reading it as it’s rendering as a huge wall of text with our break lines? Same issue using two different browsers.

    1. lastchancetoshine says:

      that’s what text highlighting’s for 😉

      1. bellacaledonia says:

        Sorry, fixed now

  8. Grace Ferguson says:

    Excellent ! We will not be silenced!

  9. wee162 says:

    Labours membership is rumoured to be somewhere between 5000 and 8000.

    If those figures are correct then it means the between approximately 1 in 11 or 1 in 17 Labour members are in an elected position (councillors, MSPs, MPs, or MEPs) as Labour have 450 of them in Scotland. They have an additional 29 unelected members of the House Of Lords. I’d then start adding on the number of people employed by them who are members of the Labour Party.

    And then I’d ask, when have you ever been part of anything at all where a higher proportion than 1 in 17 people of that group should have power over a country? I’d count my close friends and family as numbering maybe around 50-100 people, and there’s maybe 1-2 of them who I’d want anywhere near the levers of power. And I consider my friends and family to be a fair bit brighter than the membership of a Labour Party where the likes of John McTernan & Ian Smart are their intellectual powerhouses, and George Foulkes is an elder statesman type…

    And given the above, how many people are members of the Labour Party purely for the sake of creating a political career? I suspect that you could rise through the ranks not by being the cream but by being a piece of tinfoil. And how many people in the party are holding their representatives to account…

  10. Lyn Middleton says:

    Check out Wings website- a reader has had an email from his MP (Tom Clark) enclosing a reply from Ed Millibands office confirming there was no VOW. Daily Record made it all up-now confirmed in writing

    1. Dean Richardson says:

      The media lied? Who knew?

  11. muttley79 says:

    John McTernan is really not worth bothering about. He is a New Labour/Red Tory fanatic. The guy does not bring anything remotely useful to political commentary.

    1. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

      Didn’t he mastermind Labour’s election campaign for the 2011 Scottish election?

    2. Dean Richardson says:

      That complete and utter uselessness must make him feel right at home in the Westminster/Whitehall village, along with most of the other political commentators and academics who make a good living studying and lecturing on the subject.

  12. In answer ot the first question posed . . . Money won. Noboy lost the referendum and nobody won, the hard lesson was that Capitalism was the victor.

    Also I agree with John Böttcher, somebody please put some break codes into this, or future articles. This is not being pedantic, it is just really, really hard to read, and not hard to format . . . Good prose deserves the basic courtesy of the odd carriage return, or the HTML equivalent . . . Thanks 🙂

  13. Brian says:

    Great writing…difficult reading.

  14. Scottie says:

    The uk is a single party state disguised as a two party state.

  15. Fay Kennedy. says:

    As my old da says a 91yr. old WW@ veteran it’s a prerequisite for promotion just keep failing. John McTernon didn’t help Julia Gillard here in Oz. Just take a look at the cretin who is our leader in Scotland. A a former seminarian who had ambitions of being the pope. The calibre of politicians in the English speaking world is appalling in general.

    1. epicyclo says:

      Take a look at Murphy. Read up on Opus Dei.

      Looks like he fits the profile, as does Blair.

      Same sort of thing stuffed the Labour Party in Oz IMO.

    2. Dean Richardson says:

      As long as you have career politicians who’ve never done anything in the real world, they’ll be mediocre at best. While I agree with your point about politicians in the English speaking world, they’re probably just as bad elsewhere.

  16. arthur thomson says:

    For at least the last fifty years the SLABS have exploited the poor and the vulnerable. They have done more harm to Scotland and its people than global enterprises have done or will do. They have effectively run a protection racket – with a front of respectability provided by the MSM. I well remember being told ‘if you want to get on you’ll have to join the Labour Party son’. I remember union meetings where the decisions had already been made before the meeting in consultation with SLAB. Sidelining SLAB, just as the other Scottish tories have been sidelined, has to be the first target of the Yes movement.

  17. Brian Fleming says:


    Yes, Labour did cause the credit crunch, all part of Gordon Brown’s cuddling up to the City of London.

  18. A word about party membership.

    Membership subscriptions are supposed to be the bedrock of party funds; they are not. All the major parties, including the SNP, are locked in a death race created – like so much else – in Thatcher’s modernisation of the Conservative Party machine. It’s all about money. Donors to parties expect something in return – a fracking licence here, a deregulation there – but most of all it’s about maintaining a sleazy culture where the parties and politicians are beholden to large donors and not to their membership.

    In 2006 Sir Hayden Phillips led an inquiry on party funding in the UK. Greens recommended that the core of all party funding should be party membership, with the State paying a pound-for-pound subsidy based on a standardised tariff of membership fees. Also, that private, organisational or company donations to parties should be registered, declared and limited to £10,000. All of this would have necessitated annual returns from each party to register for the State top-up, with audited figures of party membership. Hayden Phillips’ subsequent report suggested a (far more loosely regulated) cap of £50,000 on donations.

    The reason Hayden Phillips report was commissioned was because of “widespread public unease” at current arrangements, and the fact that all parties, and especially those in opposition, had borrowed way beyond their capacity to repay unless rules were relaxed on donations. In other words, party political democracy was in a funding crisis. Unsurprisingly, the £50,000 cap was rejected.

    Hayden Phillips rationale for rejecting the foundation of the system based on membership on that basis that:
    – It would be too difficult for parties to make longer-term plans
    – Auditing of membership would be costly for parties and difficult for the State, and
    – Criteria for authenticating political parties would be difficult without limiting the freedoms of those groups to pursue political goals.
    – None of the major parties would agree to it.

    He was certainly correct about the last one. The three major parties were already so riven by the corrupt system that one was kicked out without ceremony, arging that the country would not accept State top-ups. In fact there was and still is a pretty generous system of State top-ups based on party representation in Parliament of which the public are almost wholly unaware. Basing on membership is an anathema because that would oblige parties to actually base their power on engaging and involving large numbers of the public. The arguments about “difficulties” (i.e. the first two objections) were blown up to apocalyptic proportions when, in fact, any membership-based charitable organisation is obliged to undertake a simple and similar procedure in order to claim Gift Aid. The real worry was that spot-checks on members would reveal “ghosts”, rather like those members of Labour Social Clubs unaware they are actually counted by the People’s Party as active political affiliates.

    The third objection is more telling. Were we to have a written constitution, setting the criteria would be much easier – uphold the core principles of the that constitution. With our famously amorphous unwritten constitution, even setting the criteria could open a can of worms about who parties are there to represent, and indeed the very nature of sovereignty in the silvered isle that is Albion. The Crown in Parliament is at best a fudge and in reality a flat denial of any claim to sovereignty of the people.

    Or as Monty Python put it: “Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.”


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